By Ragan M. Conteh
The Fifth Parliament of the Second Republic of Sierra Leone’s upcoming motion to consider a petition, that the Honorable House revoke and declare as null and void its earlier resolution passed on 21st June 2007 empowering the Government of the late President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah to compulsorily acquire two properties of Dr. Abass Chernor Bundu and his family located at Plot 14, 28 Loop, Wilberforce Loop, Wilberforce Freetown and at No. 28 Wallace Johnson Street, Freetown, is tantamount to Parliament swallowing its vomit.
The properties will be revoked on the grounds that vital information had been withheld from Parliament relating to the fact that the said properties had been the subject of litigation before the highest courts of Sierra Leone in respect of which judgments had been delivered by the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court on 17th March 2006 and on 10th January 2007, respectively.
The proposed revocation, of the said judgments of the courts, shall remain valid and shall prevail in perpetuity. This article seeks to provide lawmakers with adequate and accurate information to shape and mole their opinions and would-be decision on the revocation subject matter.
The facts are that it was the Government of President Kabba that set up a Commission of Inquiry in 1999, headed by a highly distinguished and respected Judge, Mrs. Justice Laura Marcus-Jones, to investigate the mode of acquisition of several properties including that of Hon. Dr. Abass C. Bundu.
Throughout the Inquiry, the Commission had before it evidence which came entirely from the Government. Hon. Dr. Bundu was neither summoned nor represented by counsel. In fact, he was out of the jurisdiction throughout the period of the Inquiry.
The Commission concluded its investigation and submitted a report to the Government as it was required to do under the provisions of Section 149 of the Constitution and the Commission’s Report contained no “adverse finding” against Hon. Dr. Bundu.
On the contrary, the Commission found that, Hon. Dr. Bundu had scrupulously followed due process in the acquisition of his properties.
It also stated that the only negative allegation against Hon. Dr. Bundu had come only from the Government White Paper, the legal consequences of which, if any, were totally different from any “adverse findings” made by a Commission of Inquiry, which is equivalent to a judgment of a High Court.
That is precisely because there was no adverse finding in the Report of the Commission back then. So there was no requirement for Hon. Dr. Bundu to seek any judicial remedy in the courts. Instead, it was the Government of President Kabbah that went to court to enforce the unsubstantiated allegations contained in its own White Paper.
The High Court granted the prayers sought by the Government, by declaring in effect that although the Commission had made no adverse finding against Hon. Dr. Bundu, it would not stand in the way if the Government wanted to confiscate Hon. Dr. Bundu’s properties. This was considered by Hon. Dr. Bundu to be a political rather than a legal judgment and therefore appealed to the Court of Appeal to set it aside.
The Court of Appeal unanimously overturned the judgment of the High Court and set it aside and the Government, in turn, appealed to the Supreme Court against the ruling of the Court of Appeal.
When the matter came up for hearing, the Attorney General failed to appear to argue the matter for the Government, as a result of which the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal with costs.
The State, having failed to get its way in the highest courts of the land, instead of respecting and complying with their judgments, turned to Parliament on 21st June 2007, the very eve of its dissolution, and sought a Resolution from it to empower it to confiscate Hon. Dr. Bundu’s properties.
In presenting its demands to Parliament, it (through Lands Minister Dr. Alfred Bobson Sesay) deliberately withheld vital information to the effect that the matter had been through the highest court of the land and that the court had given judgments in Hon. Dr. Bundu’s favor.
On that same day President Kabbah signed a warrant under the provisions of the Public Lands Act (Cap.116) and purported to confiscate Hon. Dr. Bundu’s properties whilst completely ignoring the mandatory provisions of both that Act and the Constitution to pay adequate compensation.
The motion before Parliament is designed simply to reverse a wrong that was inadvertently committed by Parliament and to do so by relying on two fundamental principles that the resolution of 21st June 2007 was obtained only because the then Government deliberately withheld vital information.
Parliament can irrevocably bind its successor. That is why Parliament has the unquestioned capacity to repeal or amend any laws passed by its predecessor at any time.
Other person (s), among three others, adversely affected by the Resolution of 21st June 2007 is at liberty to petition Parliament at any time to seek a remedy if they are so minded and Parliament would consider such petitions on their merit.
Nonetheless, some of the tittle-tattle, coming mostly from the grapevines, it is important to note that no two cases are ever quite the same. Therefore it does not follow the decision of Parliament to reverse its Resolution to empower President Kabbah in 2007 to confiscate Hon. Dr. Bundu’s properties. That all the others affected by that Resolution should similarly be given back their properties. It depends entirely on the merits of each case.
For instance, what is the consequence of Parliament’s reversal in the case of Dr. Abass Bundu?
The answer is simple and straightforward. It is not the reversal per se that would give Hon. Dr. Abass Bundu a new title to his properties. The title to his properties is one that he had acquired properly and legally a long time ago by following due process and the highest courts had confirmed it.
Instead, Parliament’s reversal would simply remove the obstacle that President Kabbah had improperly placed against the judgments of both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, taking full force and effect. If any other person thinks he is in a similar situation, as Hon. Dr. Abass Bundu, and can show that he or she had exhausted all the remedies available in the judicial system, of course, he or she is entitled to go to Parliament by way of a petition and seek the help of Parliament.
Apparently, it would be wrong to think that the Hon. Dr. Bundu’s case is creating a new precedent to be applied generally to all cases of confiscated properties. This is absolutely not the case. For anyone to benefit from it you must first seek your remedy in the courts and win; and you must also show that the President had seized your property notwithstanding. Otherwise, it would be tantamount to replacing one indefensible wrong with another.